Saturday, May 12, 2012

No screen-free for me

It may or may not be on your radar, but I am well aware that last week was national "screen-free" week.

We were supposed to shut off all our kids screens for the week, despite their many and loud protestations, and encourage them to engage in the "real world" instead. And the adults in their lives were supposed to join them in this, to do the same, and eschew screens for our entertainment (we were allowed to use them for "work" - no one need get fired over this experiment.)

And while I was reading friends' tweets and Facebook postings over the course of the week, reporting in as their kids adjusted to playing in their back yards, with long-forgotten toys, board games, their imaginations, and each other, I couldn't help but feel sad.  Because we were not doing this at all. Not even trying.

My son Jacob is on the autism spectrum, and the story of his love affair with the screens in his life runs long and deep.  TV taught him to talk. Really. He needed the repetition for things to sink in. At first his language was nearly all scripted from his favorite TV shows. He would use appropriate - or as close to appropriate as possible - phrases from Thomas the Tank Engine, Bob the Builder, Clifford, and Teletubbies to engage with the world around him.

Sometimes he had something really important to communicate and just could not assemble the original language to do. He would then utter a phrase, over and over, that seemed random, but with such emotion, and direct eye contact that I knew it was with utmost importance that I figure out where it came from, and thus contextualized, its meaning would become clear and I'd know what my son was trying to say to me.

An old speech therapist of Jake's once said something to me that crystallized a useful way to view my son's language learning issues. "It's like" - she'd said - "he's learning English as a second language - but he doesn't have a first language. And all his scripts are like those phrases from a little tourist's guide book - handy little stock phrases to use in standard situations. Then as you REALLY learn the language you can begin to customize your phrases, and as the grammar and syntax start to sink into your brain, you can begin to assemble sentences on your own."

And that really has been Jake's path to language. He still scripts a lot, but he also now has tremendous amounts of original language and his sentence structures get more complex every day.  One thing that hasn't changed however, is his love of television. He not only had learned language from it, but all kinds of other things too: recognizing emotions, the rules of friendship, social studies topics.

He loves cartoons and superheroes and talks about Batman and Spider-man and The Green Lantern a lot and also about who their real identities are. The idea of transformation fascinates him, that people change. And in his beloved cartoons that change is so visible, complete, and fantastic. I love that Jake envisions a super- version of himself magically appearing some day.

I wish he could get as much from books, but he just can't. He reads, but comprehension is hard for him. Pictures help, but picture books are usually less complex in story than the TV shows he watches, and Jake loves a robust story, with good guys and bad guys and the world being saved in the end.

So taking away his screens, his TV, would be a big deprivation for Jake. Added to the fact that we live in a small apartment in New York City with no backyard to toss them out into. And my boys REALLY don't get along sometimes (okay, most of the time but I hate saying that over & over) and the only guaranteed way to keep Jake out of Ethan's hair is to let him turn on the TV in my bedroom and snuggle up together - and with Blue Bear - under my covers.

So the "no screens" thing? Not really happening in this house, this year. In spite of how I'd envisioned my childrens' lives when they were infants: with infinitely less electronics involved. Maybe some time in the future. A mom can always hope.

p.s. My day is usually the 10th and I'm sorry I'm 2 days late this time (again).  I had a major event in my life - producing the NYC Listen to Your Mother Show on May 6th, and  also writing about my path to producing the show for The New York Times Motherlode blog - A ‘Sandwich Generation’ Caregiver Heads Back to Work. And I am bouncing back to some kind of normal after all the excitement slower than I'd anticipated. Next month on the REAL 10th - I sort of promise.

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Varda writes about "birth, death and all the messy stuff in the middle" on her blog "The Squashed Bologna: a slice of life in the sandwich generation"  She also tweets as @Squashedmom. Varda is proud to be a Hopeful Parent.

1 comment:

  1. Our preschool got a bit preachy about the screen free week this year, and I admit I did try to reduce the amount of TV the kids watched, but that was it. Like Jake, my oldest basically learned to talk from watching TV. My twins, thus, also grew up with TV being a regular part of the day. Their TV time is when I can be sane and get things done - work, dinner, whatever - and our family would just not function well without it. Even grandma got on my case and asked me, "How did we ever survive without TV?" "I dunno," I replied, "I grew up WITH TV." I also guarantee my brother and I watched it a hecuvalot more than my kids do, so I'm done with the guilt tripping. My kids are also among the minority who do not own their own little handheld electronic game so that I can anesthetize them when we're out in public.